Today's column discusses the often-absurd partisan debate surrounding health care legislation against the background of medical science research.
Unfortunately, any attempt to modify America's health care system has accommodated the special interest groups whose support is needed to pass health legislation. In truth, the issue should be to provide more effective health care for less cost. But, in fact, large sums of money are the real issue, and the ongoing legislative battle is over who gets to make claims on the money.
The United States ranks around 27th in the world in quality of health care, but it ranks first in health care costs. Until profit stops being the central issue, we'll never have effective health care. Instead, we will continue to have for-profit "sick care." You get sick first, and then, you get "treatment" — treatment that's often hugely expensive and ineffective.
Health science research has shown clearly that many of the costly illnesses that plague us can be prevented. However, our traditional health care delivery system has been, and still is, geared to treating illnesses only after they occur. Only 2 percent of our health care budget is used for prevention.
Health care is powerfully shaped by the values and aims of big business. Until or unless the unequivocal relationship between "sick care" and staggering costs is acknowledged, it's unlikely that any real changes will be made in health care.
Preventing illnesses is an art and a science. We know how to do it, but we don't have a health care apparatus in place that could make it so. Instead, we invest in very expensive technology and surgical procedures that tend to be overused to justify their existence.
For example, health science researchers have estimated that 50 percent of the 1 million-plus high-technology tests done annually to evaluate clogged arteries are unnecessary or could be performed later.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that one high-priced test, the coronary angiography, is at least partially responsible for promoting other costly, often unnecessary, procedures.
Coronary angioplasty has been, in part, responsible for the huge increase in questionable heart bypass surgery, despite the fact that there has actually been a decrease in heart disease. One of the authors of the study, Dr. Thomas Graboys, concluded that, "We've overtrained cardiologists, we've built too many cardiac catheterization labs, we've overbuilt heart units."
Such "overdoing" leads to pressure from hospital staff to do as many procedures as possible to pay for the investment. This drives up health care costs, while other, less expensive and sometimes more effective procedures, go underutilized.
Heart disease results from a number of causes. Among them is stress biochemistry. Studies have shown that stress hormones have a more powerful influence on heart problems than does dietary cholesterol. Yet, insurance companies pay drug companies a fortune for cholesterol-lowering medications, but nothing for stress prevention.
Many studies show that stress hormones drive a number of other health and quality-of-life problems as well, including cancer, diabetes, anxiety, depression, insomnia, obesity and premature aging, among others.
The Fifth International Montreux Congress on Stress reviewed research that examined how heart disease caused by stress can be prevented.
A most important step toward prevention is to modify any conditioned psychological tendency that we might have to view life events from an excessively stressful point of view. But there's little, if any, funding available to train people on how to pull the plug on stress-provoking views. This is too bad, because it's not that difficult to learn how to do it.
Below is one of the methods I developed to keep your stress hormone levels down. It's called "MESICS Free Release Breathing." Read the instructions below. Get a clear picture of the practice, then do it.
Take three free-release breaths as follows:
On your "in breath," breathe deeply in through your nose into your diaphragm. On your "out breath," breathe from your diaphragm out through your mouth.
Don't walk your breath out, just let it go completely. On the out breath, sigh. Tune yourself briefly to the calm, clear state at the end of your out breath. Rest there for about 7 seconds. Do not follow your thoughts. Then, repeat twice more.
Each time, let go of any stressful thoughts that you're distracted by and identified with. Practice and try to maintain your connection to the calm state at the end of your out breath for as long as possible. This will give you a taste of the "stress-free state."
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Dr. Jim Manganiello is a clinical psychologist and diplomate-level medical psychotherapist based in Groveland and West Boxford. He is also an author and teacher focusing on stress, personal growth, meditation and "inner fitness." His book "Unshakable Certainty" is available on Amazon. Email him at email@example.com or visit www.drjimmanganiello.com.
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